Taking care of more than 1,300 premature or critically ill newborns each year takes a lot of passion from a NICU team of nurses, physicians and other health care providers.
Ruby Jean Brooks, RN, has cared for many of those patients during her five decades of service at Regional One Health. In fact, she says, she couldn’t even begin to count the number of patients she’s cared for as a nurse at Regional One Health over the past 50 years.
“You’re talking about 50 years. That’s a long time,” she said with a laugh. “But I love taking care of those babies – those kinds of babies – and interacting with the parents.”
Brooks began her career at Regional One Health on July 15, 1968, immediately after graduating from nursing school. She spent the first few years of her career in the Tobey wing of what was then known as the E.H. Crump Hospital working in pediatrics. She moved to the Newborn Center in 1976, where she has remained. Brooks and her nursing colleagues give the best care possible to every baby.
“I like the challenge of working in the NICU,” she said. “I never turn my back on any situation. I know the story of just about every baby in that nursery.”
A 50-year nursing career means Brooks has seen a lot of changes. In those early days, for example, she and her nursing peers wore dresses and caps. Scrubs weren’t allowed for women. And she no longer records patient information in a hand-written chart. It’s all on computers these days.
Technology advances in medicine also mean the Newborn Center nurses see more babies able to overcome and survive tough situations.
“We work to save babies now that we didn’t have the ability to years ago,” Brooks said. “When babies weighed 500 grams, we couldn’t do a lot to save them. Now, technology advances paired with the passionate care of the doctors, nurses and the whole medical team makes it possible.”
There isn’t exactly a typical day on the unit for Brooks, although it always starts with learning about her patients and their main problems.
“I need to know how I can comfort them and how we can comfort the parents,” she said. “Is he getting better or worse? Some babies who have been there awhile I get attached to. When babies are advancing, its rewarding when you know you contributed somehow to that life.”
Brooks has one daughter of her own, but she has impacted the lives of thousands of other children across Memphis and beyond. She’s even cared for the children of former patients. She says she tries to keep up with some children, including a boy whose parents didn’t think he’d survive. He’s in college now.
“So many come back and ask for Ms. Jean. That’s rewarding,” she said, with a smile.